Monday, January 24, 2011

Recipe Round-up: CSA box

I get a CSA box delivered every other week via Full Circle Farms.  Several days in advance, they publish the box contents.  I can go online to decide whether to swap out any of the items and start to work on ideas for combining the various veggies into culinary deliciousness.  As I looked over the box contents tonight I realized that it might be fun to ask for your ideas.   Here is what I'll be receiving this week:
Box Contents
Avocados, Organic - 2 each
Red Potatoes, Organic - 1.5 pounds
Zucchini, Organic - 1 pound
Green Onions, Organic - 1 bunch
Red Bell Peppers, Organic - 1 each
Green Cabbage, Organic - 1 each
Romaine Lettuce, Organic - 1 bunch
Collard Greens, Organic - 1 bunch
Minneola Tangelos, Organic - 4 each
Kiwi, Organic - 4 each
D'anjou Pears, Organic - 3 each
Pink Lady Apples, Organic - 3 each

What would these ingredients inspire you to make??

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Happy National Pie Day!

This morning on NPR I heard that it was National Pie Day.  I felt it only appropriate to celebrate by (no surprise) making a pie.  But what kind of pie?

I actually didn't have very many fruits in the house.  There were, however, lots of veggies in the fridge, quite a few of which were nearing the end of their prime and desperately need to be eaten.  I had also gotten a delivery from Amazon Fresh this morning and although I was certain I only ordered one carton of eggs, I got two.  You don't need to be a mathemetician to know that this all adds up to:  A QUICHE!

I haven't made a pie crust in at least 4 years, so I was a little intimidated.  I pulled out my handy Better Homes & Garden "New" Cookbook, a hand-me-down from my Grandma- complete with her handwritten notes on favorite recipes.  (I looked for a copyright date and couldn't find one; my guess is it's an early 1950s edition)  The pie crust recipe called for shortening, which I don't have.  I contemplated using butter and then realized I still had quite a lot of rendered bacon fat still in the fridge.  A little web searching and voila!  Bacon fat pie crust:

Frozen bacon fat..mmmmm...

Cut in the fat
Wrap the dough & chill

Once chilled, roll out.

My nifty little trick for getting the dough into the dish is to fold it into fourths, then lay it into the pie pan and unfold.

Not going to win any pie beauty contests.  :)

 Here is the quiche recipe I based mine on:

The filling ended up being a mish-mash of what most needed eating from the fridge: 1/2 an onion, grape tomatoes and some chard.  While the crust was baking, I sauteed the veggies.  Then I beat the eggs, added heavy cream and a bit of salt and pepper.  I decided against any herbs because I wanted the flavor of the crust and veggies to dominate.

Once the crust was baked and cooled, it was time to assemble.  For a quiche the layering process is always the same:  filling, then cheese (if you didn't mix it directly in with the eggs), then pour the egg mixture over everything.

Normally I would use a lot more cheese than this (we LOVE cheese in this house) but given the bacon fat crust and heavy cream in the egg mixture, I felt it was going to be plenty rich.  I didn't measure, but estimate that I shredded less than a cup of parmesan onto the veggies.
Tomatoes starting to get a little wrinkly.

Fillings waiting in line for the sautee pan.

Final verdict:  If anything, the crust might have been too flaky (is that even possible?).  But oh-so-tasty!  I served it with a very simple green salad.  I hyped it up as "eggy-pie" but Isa didn't eat any of it, although that might have been because the first bite she tried was still too warm and she's very, very picky of food being too hot.  She did eat an entire bowl of salad, so I didn't push my luck.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Beyond Food

As I alluded to several posts ago, I have finally moved beyond food in my homemade experimenting!  Last week I used up the last of the shampoo in my bottle.  Then I scrounged around and found some sample packets of shampoo in my travel stash.  But on Monday morning, I used the last of those and it was time to make some shampoo!

Living in Seattle makes going homemade fairly easy.  I don't have to look far to find raw materials or resort to ordering them online.  Up in north Seattle Zenith Supplies carries all the oils, butters, etc., to make any sort of personal care products I will need.  Monday morning we made our first visit and bought supplies for shampoo, a hair butter for Isa and a project that I'm working up the courage to try (more on that in a future post).

Here is the recipe I used for the shampoo:

1/4 cup Castile soap (I used unscented)
1/4 cup distilled water
2 tsp jojoba oil
10 drops grapefruit essential oil  (a scent I love- choose any scent you prefer!)

I tried it this morning and am happy to report that I got copious amounts of lather.  It rinsed out completely and since the mix had jojoba, I didn't follow my wash with conditioner.  My scalp and hair feel great!

I should add that I have very short hair which is straight and fine, although not thin.  It's pretty boring, basic hair that doesn't need a lot of special attention.  If you have dry hair, then perhaps add a little more oil or follow with conditioner.  If you have oily hair, then perhaps add peppermint essential oil and/or tea tree oil.

Now that I've started the process of replacing store bought personal care products with homemade versions, I thought I should take a photo of the shelves in our bathroom.  This is what they looked like today: 

(Sorry for the glare but we actually had SUNSHINE today!)
Obviously, you can see that I didn't edit anything out or clean things up- this is truly a BEFORE shot!  The very top of the shelves holds a lamp (proof that I am a world class procrastinator, but that's a story for another post), a large metal box with just a few of Isa's many hair accessories and the train case, which holds my makeup.   The basket on the top left of the photo holds old cloth diapers used as cleaning cloths.  The middle top basket holds my hair products.  The top right basket holds Isa's hair products.  The bottom baskets are totally random storage- everything from travel sized products (in the sideways plastic box) to nail polish to a really large bottle of hand sanitizer, which honestly, we never use.  I'm hopeful that by the end of the year we will have used up all the random products and replaced them with homemade products, eliminating quite a bit of the clutter on those shelves.  I promise to post progress reports as the year continues.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Week in Review

I was felled by a cold this week, so I had no energy for posting until today.  Despite all the germs and exhaustion, I managed to stay homemade all week long.   I thought it would be more difficult than it turned out to be.  Thank goodness for my freezer, though!

Here are some highlights of what we ate this week:

On Sunday I finally roasted a chicken.  I simply stuffed the inside with fresh thyme and 1/2 a lemon, shoved some butter under the skin, then put it in the oven on a bed of onion, carrots and potatoes.  It was a lot juicier than I had anticipated!  I expected the vegetables to end up the way they are when roasted on their own but they ended up cooking in all the juices.  Next time I'll likely do the chicken separate from the vegetables because I really love the crispy, sweet goodness of roasted vegetables.

Ready to go into the oven....
... and ready to come out!

The next day, I picked apart the chicken carcass and made stock.  My soup pot wasn't large enough for all of it, so I used my crock pot as well.  It resulted in 1 very full and 2 reasonably full bags of stock in the freezer.

Today's loaf- yes, we've already eaten 1/3 of it!
On Monday, I made bread again.  I found a great, easy sandwich bread recipe: .  I got smart this time and put my oven on "warm", then set the dough on the oven for both risings.  That worked perfectly.  The recipe went together very quickly and the final loaf was fluffy on the inside but hearty enough to slice easily and hold up to buttering.  The first batch I made with all white flour because that's all I had on hand.  We ate big, buttered slices of the bread with some of the Italian Wedding Soup, defrosted from the freezer. 

And then I ate the bread for breakfast and snack and pretty much all day long!

On Wednesday, to go with the leftover chicken, I made roasted potatoes from a recipe I found on my CSA's food blog:  I did have homemade pesto from my sister in the fridge, but forgot to add it.  Oops.  I have to say these were the best roasted potatoes I have ever made.  The quick boil made the insides of the potatoes soft and then roasting them coated in butter made the outsides beautifully golden and crispy.  Unfortunately, the only way Isa will eat potatoes is as French fries.  Since this technique made the potatoes very similar in texture to fries (minus the fried/oily taste), I think I will try this recipe next with the potatoes cut in strips and see if it will meet with her approval.  If not, then more for me to eat, right?

Isa was with my parents on Friday, so I could work some extra hours.  I only made it 6 hours before I had come home feeling crummy.  Not surprisingly, I wanted something quick and easy for dinner.  I have found that the best thing to make on nights like that is scrambled eggs.  Very quick, nutritious, plenty of protein to keep you satisfied.  Of course, when you scramble them in bacon fat and add some shredded cheese, they're even more delightful!

Today I made another loaf of the sandwich bread, this time with 1/2 white flour and 1/2 wheat flour.  I will definitely make it with both flours from now on.  It was just as fluffy but I prefer the flavor of wheat bread.  To go with the bread, I made a batch of "whatever-was-in-the-fridge" chicken soup. 

The "recipe"?  Well, I sauteed 1/2 an onion (diced) with a large clove of garlic (minced), in a little olive oil.  I added some fresh thyme and sauteed until the onion was mostly translucent.  I put one thawed freezer bag of stock in my soup pot, added the onion mixture, then shredded chicken (leftover from the roasted chicken), and diced veggies from the fridge.  I had carrots, a small turnip, and chard stems.  Cook on low.  Umm.. that's it.  Nothing fancy but oh-so-delicious.

Tonight I also made coffee creamer for the first time.  I mashed up a whole bunch of recipes I'd found online (just google "homemade coffee creamer").  I didn't want to use sweetened condensed milk, which quite a lot of the recipes called for.  Instead, I used 1/2 whole milk and 1/2 heavy cream.  I added 2 tsp of vanilla extract, about 2 Tbsp of sugar and a good sprinkling of cinnamon.  I warmed it all in a saucepan on the stove for about 1/2 an hour to get the flavors to meld.   It's pretty tasty, although certainly not as sweet as I am used to given how overly sweet the store bought kind is.  I think once my taste buds adjust the sweetness will be just fine but I highly recommend straining it.  Gritty cinnamon at the bottom of the cup wasn't so great!

 For breakfasts this week, I made a batch of experimental oatmeal raisin muffins.  I took my favorite muffin recipe and played with it, attempting to make it taste like oatmeal raisin cookies in muffin form.  The first batch was okay but a bit dry.  I'm going to work on perfecting the recipe and once I have a final version, I'll post it here.

So that's what we ate this week.  What did you all eat???

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Soup's on!

Yesterday I had what I hope is the first of many cooking parties with friends this year; this time my friend Autumn came over.  My kitchen isn't large which made it interesting juggling the various cutting boards and bowls but it was fun to have company while cooking.  I sometimes include Isadora in the cooking process- she is an expert salad leaf tearer!- but any part of the recipe that calls for knives or hot pans means I'm on my own.  I don't even have another adult to feed so it can be lonely in my kitchen.

We each choose a soup recipe, cooked them up together, and then divided up the soups at the end.  That way we both rewarded with several containers of each soup to put in our respective freezers.  We also planned appropriately so that Isa would go down for her nap right as we finished up in the kitchen and we could chat while the soups cooked. Win-win situation!

Autumn made French Lentil Soup.  That recipe and her lovely photos are on her blog.

I decided on an Italian wedding soup.  Here is the recipe, with my modifications in italics:

The color looks a bit off on here but it's a nice, hearty broth-based soup.

(from Everyday Food magazine, January 2008)

1 lb ground dark-meat turkey
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 c plain dried breadcrumbs
   (see my comment after the recipe)
1/4 c grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
coarse salt & ground pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, halved & thinly sliced
   (I used 1/2 of a large onion already diced from making the cassoulet)
2 cans (14.5oz ea) reduced-sodium chicken broth
   (I used homemade turkey broth from my mom)
2 cans (14.5oz ea) diced tomatoes in juice
   (I diced fresh tomatoes)
2 heads escarole (2 lbs total), cored, trimmed & coarsely chopped
   (no escarole at the store, so I kept my love affair with chard going)

1. In a bowl, combine turkey, garlic, egg, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, 1 tsp salt & 1/4 tsp pepper. Using 1 Tbsp for each, roll mixture into balls.
2. In a large pot, heat oil over medium. Cook onion, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3-4 minutes. Add broth and tomatoes (with juice); bring to a simmer. Add meatballs; cook, without stirring, until meatballs float to surface, about 5 minutes.
3. Add as much escarole to pot as will fit. Cook, gradually adding remaining escarole, until wilted and meatballs are cooked through, about 5 minutes more. Thin soup with water if desired; season with salt and pepper. Serve soup sprinkled with more Parmesan.
One last note- my mom's turkey broth was very flavorful, with the herbs not fully strained out.  If I had made this soup with plain broth, I would have wanted to add some seasoning.

Now about those breadcrumbs.... I realized when I got to the store that, according to The Rules, I couldn't buy a canister of breadcrumbs.  No worries, I thought, I can just buy some bread and grind it up.  Oh, wait.  The bread needs to be homemade as well.  Well crap.

I got home and started searching online for what I could substitute for breadcrumbs in the meatballs.  Thanks goodness for the internet!  I found some saltines in the pantry but once Autumn arrived, she reminded me that in order for her to eat the meatballs, they needed to be gluten free.  She'd brought along some gluten free crackers that I ground in food processor and the problem of the missing breadcrumbs was solved.  Note to self- bake some bread and make some breadcrumbs!

 Just stick your crackers into the food processor and grind until you have a breadcrumb-like consistency.  I'm happy to report the meatballs held together nicely.

We ate one portion of the lentil soup last night, accompanied by Parmesan garlic muffins.  I used this recipe, adding grated Parmesan and 2 cloves of minced garlic.  They were good but a bit bland; I didn't want to go overboard with the garlic but 2 cloves wasn't enough for my taste buds.  I think this recipe will be a good base for experimenting with savory muffins in the future.
The remainder of the soup was frozen for future easy dinners.  Autumn has an extra freezer, so she froze hers in canning jars.  Since I don't have the extra space, I froze the soup flat in freezer bags.  Once solid, they take up very little space.  Just remember to cool the soup before you put it in the bags and then into the freezer.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Yes, it does need all caps- this is perhaps the most delicious meal I have ever made.  It's savory and filling, and warms you from the inside out.  The perfect meal for a cold January evening.

My friend Autumn is both a nutritionist and excellent cook.  She posted a recipe for cassoulet on her blog and it looked so good I knew I had to try it.  If you want really beautiful pictures of the process and the finished cassoulet, then head over to her post.  In addition to being a nutritionist, cook, and fabulous friend, she's also a much better photographer than I will ever be!

I modified her recipe only slightly.  In accordance to The Rules, I used dried navy beans and fresh plum tomatoes rather than canned.  I forgot to soak the beans overnight, so I boiled them for a few minutes while the sausage was cooking.  The only wine I had in the house was some very old rose in the fridge (hey- I need to stay up for work every night, so wine is out of the question!).  I added a little bit of that but most of my liquid was homemade turkey stock obtained from my mom.  Thanks Mom!  The beans were still fairly crunchy after over an hour of cooking, so I just kept adding stock as needed and cooking it all on low.  I had some really gorgeous rainbow kale from my CSA box that made a lovely addition to the mix.  (ETA- turns out this was actually chard, not kale.  Still very yummy!)  All told, I cooked the cassoulet for about 3 hours. 


veggies all chopped and waiting

everything in the pot, let the cooking begin

the rainbow kale (er..chard)- seriously, isn't it gorgeous?!?

time to eat (and eat and eat)
As you can see from the photos, I don't own a Dutch oven and made the cassoulet in my largest skillet which happens to be nonstick.  Due to the nonstick surface there were no lovely little crunchy bits in the pan to deglaze.  Bummer.  I can't even imagine how amazing this would taste if made in a more traditional vessel.

Small sidebar.  Reason #472 why I don't ever want to move:  I posted on Facebook asking for advice on which brand of Dutch oven to buy.  Within a few minutes, my neighbor was knocking on my door to lend me their rarely used oven!  I heart my neighbors.

And in other news, stayed tuned for upcoming posts about something other than food.  I used the last of the shampoo this morning..... 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Making my Mamaw Proud

Today my dad came up to help take down our Christmas lights.  To show my appreciation, I decided to cook pinto beans and cornbread.  My dad is from Tennessee and that particular meal is his favorite.  It's something I ate many, many times growing up but have never attempted to make myself.  

So, I called my mom for the recipe.  Her response?  "There is no recipe."  Instead, here are her directions, exactly as I wrote them on a Post-It, with some notes in brackets to make it legible to everyone else:

Pinto Beans

Inspect [dry beans, then put in stock pot] & cover with water, boil for 5 min.
Cool & drain.
Fresh water to cover 4-5inches. [i.e., put back in stock pot with fresh water]
Add ham hock/meat, boil then cook on low.

Yep, that's it.  Unbelievably easy.  The best part is that the longer you cook them the better they get.  So put them on in the morning and let them cook all day on low until dinner.  I suppose you could put them in the crock pot as well, if you aren't going to be around to man the stove.

Mmm.... bacon fat!
In theory, you could make the beans without adding meat but it adds so much flavor that I don't recommend it.  I tried a little experiment and used bacon jam as my "meat".  I'd made several batches of the glorious stuff to give out as Christmas gifts and still have a couple jars in the fridge.  After I did the initial boil, I put the beans back in the pot with some bacon fat (saved from the bacon jam processing) and about a 1/2 pint of the bacon jam, sauteed it for just a bit, then poured in the water to start cooking.  The result was pretty damn amazing, if I do say so myself.

Growing up, pinto beans were always, I mean always, served with cornbread.  My dad brought me back one of my Mamaw's cookbooks after her passing, so I started there looking for a suitable (i.e., truly southern- no sugar, no extras) cornbread recipe.  No cornbread recipe, but I did find the most delightful inscription in the front of the book:
(That's right, it was a gift from her Home Ec teacher back in 1934!)
And when I flipped to the back, I found this:

At first I thought it was just Mamaw updating the book after getting married but then I noticed that she spelled our last name wrong.  Odd, no?  I like to think that she had just met the handsome boy who would someday be my Papaw and was scribbling her imaginary married name in her book before she knew how to spell it correctly.  It's a nice little fantasy.

Cornbread made the right way- more bacon fat
Anyhoo...  I eventually found this recipe from   It turned out a bit thinner/crispier than my mom usually makes because my cast iron skillet was bigger than what the recipe called for.  My dad told me this is actually how Mamaw used to make it, so I felt better.  It must have been spot-on, because he ate two helpings of beans and 1/4 of the cornbread.

I almost didn't post this final product picture because it just doesn't do justice to the beans.  They really are delicious- I promise!

Isa wanted me to take a picture of her plate as well.

Stock the pantry

Originally I thought that I would allow myself to buy canned fruits or vegetables as well as possibly a few items like the aforementioned coffee creamer.  Maybe include pasta because I'm apprehensive about making it.  There's no reason to kill myself in the attempt to follow through on this experiment, right?

But then I started thinking.  This homemade year experiment is about really challenging myself.  About not taking the easy route.  Honestly, I'm not so good at halfway.  Once I give myself permission to not give 100%, it's a slippery, and fast moving, slope to completely slacking off.  And I need to change that.

So I made the decision that I won't have any exemptions for things I know I can make, even if it will be a little tricky or time-consuming.  That means no canned tomatoes, no store-bought coffee creamer, no boxed chicken broth.  Because I've done the research and I really, truly can make those things.  My plan is to make large batches of staples I use often and either freeze or can them for future use.  Homemade doesn't have to mean made fresh at each meal, it just has to produced by me.
Here are the staple foods I know I need to make in the near future:

stewed tomatoes
chicken stock
cream-of-whatever soup
pureed pumpkin
spaghetti sauce

I'm sure I'll think of more as time goes on.  Anyone have anything they use on a regular basis that I may have forgotten?

On a slight tangent, by the time summer hits and more produce comes into season, I'm hoping to be comfortable enough with canning to put up lots of fruits and veggies to carry us through next winter.  I have fond memories of the shelves in my grandmother's basement, row after row of jars full of peaches, pears, dill pickles.  Sounds lovely, doesn't it?

If you're in the Seattle area and want to join me for canning or freezing sessions, let me know!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Hey, hey good lookin'...

I must, sadly, admit that I did a poor job planning for today's meals.  Pitiful considering this is the first day of the year!  I had anticipated starting the year off to a bang by roasting a whole chicken for the first time.  Alas, we didn't make it to the store yesterday and when I tried to use Amazon Fresh there were no delivery slots until Monday morning.  Oops.

After putting Isa down for her nap, I started brainstorming what I could make for dinner from the random assortment of foods currently in our fridge and pantry.  Suddenly, my gaze fell on these (bonus points to anyone who knows what they are before scrolling down):


It's a can of fava beans.

Why do I have a can of fava beans in my pantry you ask?  Why, to make foul of course!  Doesn't everyone keep fava beans around for that?

Foul is an Ethiopian dish of mashed fava beans.  I first had it with friends at a delicious Ethiopian restaurant, here in Seattle, called Selam Cafe.  It was love at first taste.  Luckily, my handy Ethiopian cookbook includes a recipe for foul.  My previous attempt didn't taste as heavenly as the restaurant's version, but I am a mere ferenge afterall.  Still pretty delightful.

(from Recipes from Afar and Near: Lucy's Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia)

1 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp berbere
1 jalapeno, chopped, divided
1 15oz can fava beans, rinsed
1 tomato, chopped, divided
1/4 to 1/2cup water
Salt to taste
Feta cheese, for garnish
1 Tbsp spiced butter, melted

In a saucepan, saute half the onion in olive oil on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add garlic, spices and half the jalapeno and continue to saute. Add fava beans, half the tomato, and water and reduce the heat to a simmer. As the foul is cooking, mash it with a spoon until you get a nice, even consistency. Add salt and continue to cook for about 15 minutes; don't let the foul become thick and hard. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining chopped vegetables and the feta. Drizzle with the melted spiced butter and serve with warm French bread. 
(Notes- I omit the jalapeno and I didn't have feta or spiced butter on hand to use tonight.  Still very tasty.  Also, if you would prefer a less-chunky finished product or you have veggie-averse children you want to trick, you could put this in the food processor and blend it down to a texture similar to hummus.)

As the recipe states, foul is traditionally served with French bread. I used a basic Italian Bread recipe from my Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook (I have the 2006 edition) because it was the first one cookbook I picked up.  The King Arthur Flour website is also a great resource for baking recipes of all kinds; I expect I'll be trying a lot of those recipes this year.  If you have never made a yeast bread, then I highly recommend you try it at least once.  Kneading dough is very relaxing, sort of like a grown-up version of working with playdough but with the reward of delicious carb-y goodness at the end.  It's been a long time since I've made bread and I'm excited to start up again.

Unfortunately, either I didn't let my yeast sit long enough to activate fully or perhaps the spot on my stove where I put the dough for both risings wasn't warm enough because the dough didn't double and puff the way it should have.  Then again, even overly dense homebaked bread is pretty tasty.  Plus it was better for scooping up the foul and it means I have plenty of room for improvement in the baking department!

Dinner is served!